Course studied: BA (Hons) Decorative Arts
I always wanted to set up my own practice while studying and this was the first thing I did once graduating
More about Rachel
Creative Entrepreneur Rachel Butlin graduated from NTU in 2015 with an Exceptional First Class Hons Degree in Decorative Arts. She now owns a successful contemporary jewellery business, specialising in high-end mixed material pieces.
Rachel shares her experience of running her own business straight after graduating, collaborating with other female makers, and the importance of passing on skills and knowledge as a designer, maker and NTU Alumni Fellow.
What attracted you to your work- when did your passion for making begin?
I have always been interested in design and the process of making for as long as I can remember. The foundation course I studied really pushed me to experiment with lots of materials and processes, and I found a natural skill with metal and combining materials. This led me on to a mixed disciplined degree, allowing me to further explore materials without being limited to just silversmithing.
Tell us more about your work…
My pieces explore the combination of materials and the composition in which these are placed. I love to challenge the way in which people perceive a piece of jewellery or body adornment, and what it means to them to wear it. The body becomes a canvas for my pieces in the form of statement brooches, neckpieces and rings.
What does your current day involve?
There isn't really a typical day within my practice, and this is what I love about what I do, every day is different! Some days I'm exploring new materials, others I'm enamelling, making new pieces or fulfilling orders for customers.
There is also the other side to running the business which isn't just about making, I'm the accountant, photographer, social media assistant, order packer, I may be on a post office run or applying for shows and so much more! There's so much that goes on behind the scenes and it’s finding the correct balance for all the elements that's the secret to running a successful business.
Rachel proves how time consuming it can be to run a business, particularly in the creative industries where your role is not only ensuring that the business runs smoothly but of course to design and make your products. We asked how she finds balance in her life and why this is important to her;
What does work-life balance mean to you?
Work-life balance is sometimes hard to find when self-employed but also it is key to sustaining a business over the years, not burning out and looking after your mental health.
Work hard, be organised and strive to achieve the best you can but don't feel guilty when taking time out for yourself too. The best ideas sometimes come when you’re completely switched off and away from the bench!
Rachel has worked incredibly hard to set up her business. She reflects on her early career with pride and highlights how collaborating with other makers helped her to develop her techniques and opened doors.
How did you begin setting up your business?
I always wanted to set up my own practice while studying and this was the first thing I did after graduating. In the first few months, I worked as a bench jeweller for Laura Baxter Jewellery, in exchange for studio space and tool access. This was such a valuable start to my career, seeing how a fellow maker ran their business and learning skills that I continue to use in my practice today.
I had my first show as part of Lustre at Lakeside Arts in November 2015 and have now shown at many high-end UK and International shows throughout the years.
In March 2016 I started a six-month residency at Unit Twelve Gallery in Staffordshire, which offered a bridging programme between graduating and setting up my practice. This included an Arts Council Grant, mentoring from Jennifer Collier and Iain Perry and a studio space to work in. I have now been a resident at the studio for seven years and at the start of 2020, expanded my studio to create a space for teaching and workshops.
Tell us about the ways that you share your skills with other makers
I host a programme of contemporary jewellery workshops including techniques from enamelling to traditional silversmithing, allowing me to pass on my skills. I have also been a lecturer on other creative courses which again, has allowed me to give back and pass on skills, knowledge and business practices to future generations.
Rachel is also an NTU Alumni Fellow, giving her time to support the next generation of NTU students.
Why did you join the Alumni and Industry Fellowship Programme and what have your highlights been so far?
I wanted to join the Alumni Fellowship to give something back to the next generation of NTU students and graduates. I felt very lucky to have received such supportive and inspirational guidance during my time at University and wanted this to continue into the future.
One definite highlight as an Alumni Fellow was coming back as a visiting lecturer for my course. It was so lovely to be back in the facilities that were once home and to work with current students, exploring design processes, working with materials and passing on the skills I had learned and continue to use from my degree.
Rachel and her business have been based at Unit Twelve Gallery in Staffordshire for the past 7 years, a communal studio that she shares with three other female makers. In recognition of International Women’s Day we asked her;
Who are the women that inspire you?
Having a communal studio space at Unit Twelve Gallery is something I've valued so much over the years and sharing that with inspirational women is priceless! I share the space with contemporary paper artist (Jennifer Collier), mixed material artist (Fran Buxton) and textile artist (Ruth Proud). It’s great to be able to inspire each other with what we are creating, support each other with ideas and problem solving and also as fellow women in business.
You can find out more about Rachel and her work and the Unit Twelve Gallery here: https://www.rachelbutlin.com/
Follow Rachel on LinkedIn: Rachel Butlin | LinkedIn
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